Brother Martin’s Transformative Message for Work
When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said “Repent!” he wanted the whole life of believers to become a life of repentance. —Martin Luther
by Greg Forster, director of the Oikonomia Network
This excerpt is a sneak preview of The Church on Notice, an eBook that will be released for sale through online booksellers on October 31, 2017, the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses.
When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said “Repent!” he wanted the whole life of believers to become a life of repentance. (Thesis 1)
Mark Greene of the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity put the issue [of following God in our work and other daily activities] into sharp focus when he spoke to the Lausanne Movement gathering in 2010, the largest global conference of evangelical leaders ever held.
He observed that most Christians think the job of the church is to recruit people to join the church and participate in its programs to spread the gospel. On that model, he pointed out, the 98% of Christians who are not church employees are neither envisioned nor equipped by the church to serve Jesus in 95% of what they do with their waking hours.
As Greene said: “What a tragic waste of human potential!”…
Five hundred years ago, Brother Martin was facing a dilemma that had important similarities to ours. In his world, works of religious devotion had become something separate from ordinary life, similar to the way we put our faith front and center on Sunday but struggle to do the same on Monday…
In the late Middle Ages…people who dedicated their lives to church work—the priests—were often viewed as the only people who were following a calling from God full time. Others could get connected to God only by going to the priests.
That’s how they eventually got the detestable indulgence system. With some—but not too much—oversimplification, the logic of the system could be expressed as this: “You do ordinary work, which is unspiritual, but makes money. We do church work, which is spiritual, but doesn’t make money. So you give us some of your money and in exchange we’ll provide religious goods and services to compensate for your spiritual deficit.”
Letter of Indugence, Nationalmuseet CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
That system is everything wrong with leisure-time Christianity in a nutshell:
● Complacency about living our daily lives in an unspiritual way, as long as we show up at church and do our church stuff
● Idolatry that elevates something else (in this case, the church) into God’s rightful place of authority and control
● Injustice that enslaves and exploits the poor for the benefit of the powerful
● Narcissism that turns the church’s worship into a packaged product to serve the customer’s felt emotional needs
Do you think nothing like that system could happen today? In fact, we are surrounded in our own time by a new kind of religious indulgence system.
Many churches teach people, implicitly and sometimes even explicitly, that they’re good Christians as long as they show up at church and participate in church programs, do certain specific religious works at home, and (of course) donate money to the offering. Sometimes moral standards of personal behavior (be nice to people and don’t look at porn) are also included. Sometimes voting a certain way is part of the formula.
But a radical transformation of your ordinary life and daily activities by the Holy Spirit is not at the center of discipleship in this kind of church. It is not even a condition of discipleship. Radical transformation of your ordinary life and daily activities by the Holy Spirit is not a concept these churches preach at all, or show any sign of knowing about.
In short, the implicit and sometimes explicit message in far too many of our churches is that 98% of what you do with your life is unspiritual. So show up at church and we’ll provide religious goods and services to compensate for your spiritual deficit. And, of course, for the church to be here to provide these goods and services that you need in order to be spiritual, we need you to donate money…
Could you change a diaper as a disciple of Jesus? A few years after the 95 Theses, Brother Martin gave a sermon on marriage in which he described how the world looks down on a man who does “women’s work.” But a Christian husband is serving Jesus Christ when he works in the home, because all his work—all his life—is service to Christ. He said all the angels and saints in heaven sing to the glory and praise of God when they see a man changing a diaper! (Don’t worry, ladies, women can also change diapers for God’s glory, so you don’t have to miss out.)
For more about expressing faith through work, check out Going on Vocation, a documentary featuring engaging stories and scholar-experts, such as Greg Forster. On sale now for just $12.50. Also available is Christian History magazine #110 Callings.